You would expect from a country where so much of its landmass is coastal and a historic seafaring heritage the Portuguese are obsessed with. Atlantic currents bring fish to Portugal's shores in abundance, such as bass and bream. Other seafood and shellfish happily shelter in many coves, lagoons and inlets. One delicacy prized all along the western Iberian coast is the Goose Barnacle, known as Percebes in Portuguese. They grow on the cliffs and endure the battering of Atlantic waves. Percebeiros risk their lives clambering slippery steep cliffs, braving the hefty currents and swell to collect their bounty. The coastline around Sintra is a perfect habitat for Goose Barnacles. If you ask the locals, they will happily tell you this is the absolute best place in the world to indulge in this particular delicacy.
However, if these odd-looking creatures aren't your thing, there's plenty of alternatives found in countless fish restaurants in the area. There's nothing better in my mind than enjoying the catch of the day, simply char-grilled, with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea salt, helped down by a chilled Setúbal white wine. Portuguese also enjoy fish stews, most notably the Cataplana. Named after the clam-shaped pan it's cooked in. The Cataplana originates from the Algarve, with from Moorish origins. Cataplana is now found all over Portugal with regional variations. Most often, it's a dish shared by two people.
Sardinhas Assadas (grilled Sardines) are a staple in restaurants all over Portugal, yet best eaten during the Santo António festivities in June when they're in season. In Cascais, they claim to serve the best sardines in Portugal. Another popular dish found everywhere is Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, clams in a garlic-coriander-wine sauce, ideal for dipping crusty bread into on a balmy afternoon. Not all the fish found on Sintra's menus are locally caught, however, Salmon and Bacalhau are most likely sourced from Scandinavia or the North Atlantic. Bacalhau (dried salted cod) is Portugal's national dish. The vast array of recipes reflects their obsession with it on offer. It's said there are 365 different ways to cook bacalhau, one for each day of the year. In Sintra, you're likely to come across Bacalhau com Natas, Bacalhau à Brás and various other house styles.
You can find most types of meat and poultry on a Portuguese menu. There's usually two or three types of steak on offer, beef or veal. Pork makes an appearance very often. In the town of Negrais northeast of Sintra, they specialise in roasted piglet (leitão), which has to be tried to be believed. It is truly a delight to the taste buds. Another outstanding pork dish is Porco Preto. Originating from the Alentejo region, these small black pigs are fed on a diet of acorns and are full of flavour.
Chicken is a popular dish often grilled with Piri-Piri in specialised restaurants. Turkey is a popular choice also, mainly served in steak form. Meat finds its way into stews too, the Cozido is a hearty one-pot dish of various meats, sausages and vegetables. Another tasty one-pot is Arroz de Pato, which is essentially a risotto made from duck, chouriço and rice, finished off in the oven ten minutes before serving. Portugal has a rich tradition of making fine choriço type sausages and hams, many with DOP status, including some great blood sausages. The Alheira is a smoked chicken sausage created by jews during the Inquisition to fake pork consumption.
Many Portuguese small towns have their own dessert, from the famous Pastel de Nata from Belém, the Fradinho of Mafra and the pies of Azeitão. As far as confectionery in Sintra is concerned, the Queijada de Sintra (Sintra tartlets) rules supreme. It is made from an ancient recipe dating back to the Middle Ages. A filling of curd cheese, ground almonds, egg yokes, sugar and cinnamon cooked in a pastry case and sprinkled with icing sugar.
Another sweet delight is the Travesseiros of Piriquita. Piriquita is already considered a must-see for tourists visiting Sinta. Opened in 1862, Casa Piriquita soon became famous for its puff pastry pies with a filling of almond cream and now have two bakeries in Sintra.
The Colares wine region located around Sintra is one of the worlds oldest producing areas, if not one of the unusual. It is the second oldest demarcated wine regions in Portugal after the Douro. The art of making wine here was introduced by the Romans when they occupied the region. The vines are planted in the dunes which follow the coast, trained low to avoid the Atlantic winds. This terrain proved too harsh for the phylloxera louse that devastated nearly all of Europe's vines in the 19th century. The shortage of competitors led to a boom in the popularity of Colares wines. However, the processes involved in planting and training vines in such an alien environment for grapes is arduous. Production has fallen sharply in the last 50 years from 2,500 acres of vineyards in the 1940s to just 50 acres today.
What is produced is of excellent quality and quite distinct. The acidic and tannic nature of the reds mean they're aged for years before being released on the market. Today there is a consorted effort to revitalise the industry. New vines are being planted in much sort after areas where holiday homes are in high demand.